With so many hot hatches pumping out stats that until recently were supercar territory, the VW Golf GTI can sometimes be forgotten. I’m not saying that out of a lack of respect, it’s just that the new breed of hot hatches, even VW’s own R, are on a different level to what we classified as a hot hatch as recently as five years ago.
So one has to give credit to Volkswagen for quietly getting on with it by continuing to produce the hot hatch by which all others are measured, even if it’s not always top of mind. The side effect is that, devoid of headline Nürburgring figures and 0-100km/h times putting relatively recent Porsches to shame, the GTI feels more grown up.
And grown up it is. At 40 years old it’s the same age as me. But while I round out with age, the GTI gets fitter, especially in the GTI 40 Years Edition (known as Clubsport). With 195kW/350Nm and 213kW/380Nm on overboost for periods of up to 10 seconds (available in third gear up), the GTI 40 Years manages 0-100km/h in a claimed, if slightly conservative sounding, 6.3sec.
Raiding the parts bin, the 40 Years has the same larger brake rotors found on the Golf GTI Performance but adds Volkswagen’s electronically-clutched Vorderachsquersperre locking diff, revised stability control when in sportmode and adaptive dampers.
The I’m-fitter-than-other-40-year- olds feel carries across to a revised front bumper with noticeably larger air intakes that flow rather nicely into larger side sills and a revised rear bumper.
A body kit this is not, though a lot appears to be happening in the tail with a lift-reducing diffuser and darker LED tail-lights. The wheels especially draw a lot of praise, being 19 x 7.5- inch ‘Ruby’ alloys (a further link to the model’s 40th anniversary). Everything looks purposeful. To me the highlight is very cool two-piece rear roof spoiler leading off the black roof. It’s the only visual aspect that has a bit of boy racer about it. But like the rest of the car there is no shouting about it. A panoramic electric glass sunroof is available for an additional $1850.
As soon as I jump inside everything feels very familiar. That’s not to say that the interior feels dated, it just feels reassuring. Everything is right at hand. They got it pretty much right the first time so why change it? The interior is a treat of Alcantara, that extends to the heavily bolstered sports seats (no traditional tartan here), steering wheel and gear selector. The seats remind me of those in the old Pirelli Editions GTI, the ones which had a strange effect of embedding a tyre tread print into your back after a long drive.
Volkswagen has created a rather entertaining road course through the hills behind Brisbane, real roads that highlight the the amount of grip on offer over a variety of surfaces. Once the pace heats up, you can feel the Golf GTI working hard but never getting out of shape. Lift off mid corner and you might come unstuck, best to push through and trust all of the goodies hat make up the 40 Years Edition. With the hot hatch thinking caps on, Volkswagen has nailed the sport mode stability control settings, ensuring that everything is telling you just what it is capable of. Cornering flat over bumps, absorbing everything just as you would expect a Golf to, but with the usability of, well, a Golf.
After a long drive, you remember that this is how a proper performance hatch is meant to behave. My driving partner and I even managed to have an in-depth conversation about all things unimportant to everyone else whilst simultaneously having a spirited drive. Neither of us felt flustered as we arrived at our final destination.
Lakeside is a circuit I’ve always wanted to experience but it just never happened. Like all great tracks no longer in competitive use, it’s showing signs of wear and tear but that just makes it more appealing On track the GTI achieves everything it just did on the road, just a lot faster. But despite the 40 Years’ once-removed Niirburgring credentials, to me the track experience is missing the point of a Golf GTI.
If I was an owner, would I take mine to the track? Maybe once or twice in its life time. But I know for sure is that I’d be taking the old Pacific Highway north of Sydney over the expressway 8 out of 10 times, even if I was in a hurry. The fact is I’d also be able to do that with three passengers and luggage and it would be just as entertaining.
The 40 Years lands in a unique spot of being all things to all people. Hot hatch, sports car, regular-everyday-pick-up-Mum- from-the-airport-with-all-her-luggage car, as an overall package it really is as close to complete as you could ever want. It’s a Golf GTI after all.
Like most great performance models, the Golf GTI started as an after-hours skunkworks project. When Volkswagen management reluctantly signed off on a production version, they set a perimistic sales target of just 5000 units. Now in its seven-generation, the GTI has surpassed over two million sales globally.
While that might still represent only a small splash in the 30-million-unit ocean that is the broader Golf range, Australian consumers can’t get enough of the GTI. Since the launch of the MkV Golf more than a decade ago, GTI has accounted for around a quarter of all local Golf sales (the highest percentage in the world).
The GTI story began with the 81kW, 140Nm Mkl. While the outputs of the 1.6-litre fuel-injected four-cylinder seem laughably modest nowadays, the 810kg was properly quick and agile compared to the stodgy offerings available in 1976. Four- valve cylinder heads arrived with the Mkll, while the unheralded MkIV brought turbocharging to the GTI for the first time. The MkV recaptured the magic of the original GTI and Volkswagen has been constantly improving the formula ever since.
Today’s GTI 40 Years dwarfs the first GTI in every sense. Its 2.0-litre turbocharged four- cylinder makes 195kW (213kW during a 10-second burst of overboost) and 350Nm (380Nm on overboost). The new car is 141 per cent more powerful (163 per cent on overboost). Its 6.3-second 0-100km/h is 2.7sec quicker than the first GTI, and its 250km/h top speed is 68km/h faster than the original. Physically smaller and without the luxury and safety tech of the new car, the first GTI weighed just 810kW (which certainly helped make the most of the 81 kW output). The 1357kg 40 Years Edition is no heavy weight, but is still 68 per cent heavier than the original.
Volkswagen Golf GTI 40 Years
Engine: 1984CC four-cylinder, dohc, 16v
Power: 195kW @ 5350-6600rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1700-5600rpm
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch gearbox, front-wheel drive, LSD
Front suspension: Struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension: four-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes: Carbon-ceramic discs, 380mm front, 356mm rear, ABS, EBD
Wheels: 19 x 9.0-inch (front & rear)
Tyres: 245/35 ZR19 (front &rear)
0-100km/h: 6.3sec (claimed)
Top speed: 250km/h (claimed)
Basic price: $48,990